Mayor Dawn Zimmer has been largely absent when it comes to selling her controversial plan to rebuild Washington Street to the public.
She stayed for five minutes at one meeting to introduce the project, and didn’t bother to show up at all for Monday’s big public meeting, at which many people (even her own supporters) criticized aspects of the plan. She appears unwilling to hear the outcry from the public against it. Many business owners say they are opposed to aspects of the plan, and have made it clear that they do not have the mayor’s ear when it comes to support for their issues.
This is not new. The Zimmer administration appears to have taken the stance that businesses do not vote. She believes she has strong enough support from the bicycle-riding and new urban-dwelling population that she doesn’t need businesses to keep her in office.
Despite criticism from some of her own council members, Zimmer still has a majority of the City Council willing to help pass the plan. It is meant to turn Washington Street into a safe haven for everything from bicycle riders to baby carriages. That is, provided you don’t have to take a bus or cross the street.
The plan narrows the space for driving, carving out some of each side of Washington Street for bike lanes.
The architects of the project, unfortunately, have to hear the brunt of the criticism. Like any good architect doing business with government officials, they are simply providing their client with what she asked for.
Some of the politically-sensitive questions have included the fact that the plan is designed to curb double parking, whether the bicycle lanes between the parking lane and the sidewalk are viable, and whether a firetruck GPS system to control traffic lights in an emergency will result in massive traffic backups. And will it be safe for pedestrians to step into the bicycle lanes to cross streets, get into parked cars, or board a bus?
In an effort to appease the business community, the plan would establish loading zones. But these would be only available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many trucks come to Hoboken as early as 6 a.m. to avoid the commuter rush. As a former truck driver who delivered to Hoboken, I know that traffic approaching both Hudson River tunnels often makes it impossible to get into Hoboken at a particular time. Closing the loading zones at 2 p.m. would also create havoc for local food stores, liquor stores and others making deliveries to residents in and around Hoboken. Many people order these things via smart phone apps, and many of these deliveries happen after work – long after 2 p.m.
Another issue is the angled parking changes above Ninth Street that would force cars to back into parking spots rather than pull straight in. Angled parking is considered dangerous even when people pull straight in, but it allows more cars to park on a block. To change to conventional parallel parking would cause as much a public outcry as forcing bicycles off sidewalks.
Bicycle lanes are not new. But in most communities, they are simply white lines drawn along pavement. The Washington Street plan would create rubberized borders for each lane on each side of the street.
The political implications of the plan are significant. This will be a test of Zimmer’s ability to hold her council people in line. Opposition council members Michael Russo and Ruben Ramos, as well as independents like Tiffanie Fisher, appear to have concerns about the plan. Ramos said he would like other options. But Zimmer appears to see her plan as a “take it or leave it” proposal.
Councilmembers Ravi Bhalla, James Doyle, and Michael DeFusco appear to support the plan for the most part, willing to tinker around the edges without making any fundamental changes. Councilman David Mello did not attend the five-hour meeting this week so it is unclear where he stands. Councilwoman Jen Giattino got only three minutes to speak before the Monday meeting ended, so her full position is uncertain.
But for the most part, council people connected to Zimmer appear to be supporting her vision, even though Zimmer appears unwilling to stand up for her own plan — and willing to let others fall on the sword for her.
Bayonne will pick two new school trustees shortly
With two seats open on the Bayonne Board of Education, candidates who lost in the November election may get another opportunity. Reports suggest that the list of 13 names for possible replacements has been whittled to six. New board members will have to decide on a new superintendent of schools. It is unlikely that the board will offer a renewal to Dr. Patricia McGeehan, whose term expires in April 2017. Under state law, the board must tell the superintendent a year in advance if they intend to offer a renewal or not.
Bad feelings still linger from last year, when the previous board went against the wishes of Mayor Jimmy Davis and offered McGeehan a two-year term rather than a one-year term.
One of the people being considered for superintendent is current freeholder and Assistant Superintendent Ken Kopacz.
Some board members believe that Kopacz lacks the experience and may give him a pass for the present, offering the job to someone else for at least a two year term.
Is the Jersey City superintendent reappointment a done deal?
Those who oppose the reappointment of Jersey City schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles know they do not have the votes to block her, but say they still want a chance to go on the record opposing her.
Lyles’ reappointment was done without a vote in December, based on the lack of enough trustees at the meeting. Because the board has ruled that the reappointment is automatic unless there is a vote to oppose her reappointment, Lyles will have a five-year additional term.
Lyles appears to have significant political support outside of the school district, and her record of success includes helping Jersey City regain control of its own operations from the state Department of Education, which took control of the district’s operations in 1988. To get it back, the district had to show progress in school and administrative operations.
Critics of Lyles claim she is too focused on the already successful schools, and does not pay enough attention to areas of the school district with the most social and educational problems. Others are concerned that she might support expansion of charter schools in the district.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.